Lawmakers are grappling with a range of technology issues including data privacy and security, content moderation, overhauls to existing antitrust laws, and e-commerce. These complex and contentious issues have spurred calls for massive new funding for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Department of Justice (DOJ) to further extend the government’s reach into regulating tech companies. However, while consumers and lawmakers may have concerns about tech companies’ business practices or size, creating additional federal bodies and adding more bureaucrats would be a huge step in the wrong direction.
One such bill, the Digital Platform Commission Act, was recently introduced by Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO). This legislation would create a new federal commission made up of five members appointed by the executive branch and confirmed by the Senate. The five-member commission would have the ability to promulgate rules and would have broad authority to regulate the tech sector in conjunction with the FTC and DOJ. Democrats have also proposed granting the FTC $1 billion in funding to create a new bureau within the agency to regulate tech companies.
While Senator Bennet might deserve a small amount of credit for taking a more thoughtful approach than simply arming the FTC with more taxpayer dollars, a new federal commission won’t benefit consumers or the economy. In fact, Americans are moving in the opposite direction of this proposal. A new survey from the Pew Research Center found that support for more government regulation of the tech sector has dropped dramatically, with only 44 percent of Americans believing that technology companies should be more regulated than they are now (down from 56 percent in 2021). Interestingly, this is not a phenomenon tied to one political party, according to the survey:
- Only 35 percent of conservative Republicans want more government regulation of technology companies (down from 59 percent);
- Conservative Republicans who believe the government should regulate tech companies less rose from 11 percent to 36 percent;
- Moderate Republicans’ support for more regulations dropped from 48 percent to just 33 percent;
- Liberal Democrats support from more tech regulations plummeted from 70 percent to 58 percent; and
- Liberal Democrats who say the current level of regulations for tech companies is about right rose from 23 percent in 2021 to 32 percent.
There could be a number of reasons for this shift, including Elon Musk’s announcement that he would purchase Twitter. It’s also likely that faced with inflation, high gas prices, supply chain issues, and other problems, regulating tech companies is not even close to a top priority for most voters. This notion is backed up by other polls. Americans also have every reason to believe that more federal bureaucracy regulating one of the biggest and innovative sectors of the economy won’t be in their best interest.
The Digital Platform Commission Act would allow the commission to promulgate rules, but as quickly as rules are created by one set of bureaucrats, they can be undone by a new regime. As Neil Chilson of Stand Together notes, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the debate over net neutrality is a pertinent example of bureaucratic oscillation. In 2015, the FCC reclassified internet service providers (ISPs) as a Title II service, subjecting them to onerous and outdated regulations. This was thankfully undone by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai with the Restoring Internet Freedom Order (RIFO) in 2017, rightfully classifying ISPs as a Title I service. If FCC nominee Gigi Sohn is confirmed, ISPs could once again be classified as a Title II service. It is not hard to imagine how a digital platform commission could radically change rules under a Republican and Democrat administration, leading to uncertainty and disruptions for businesses and consumers.
There is also the broader issue of empowering the government to slow down America’s most innovative companies. Whether it’s the DMV or the IRS, Americans understand how bureaucracies can be slow, cumbersome, and unwieldy. While large companies may be able to hire experts and navigate complex federal regulations, smaller businesses and potential future competitors will face a much bigger challenge. If lawmakers are concerned about Big Tech, the best thing to do is keep barriers to entry low and maintain light-touch regulations to allow robust competition. More federal bureaucracy is detached from what Americans want and would unnecessarily hinder the U.S. role as the global leader in innovation.